In today’s environment that is saturated with ideas, brands, and promises, how do you make sure that you have the capabilities and capacity to influence others?
Such key factors as innovation, collaboration, use of data, and creativity play crucial roles in enhancing organisation’s and individuals’ opportunities to grow their ideas and markets at a larger scale.
By taking our ideas out there, building trusting relationships, and normalising our ideas, we can make a difference in whatever field we choose to aim for.
Matching data and creativity
In a recent McKinsey podcast episode How to unlock marketing-led growth: Data, creativity and credibility key insights focused on how today’s marketing world is changing:
now, more than ever before, we have more data available that we can use, and companies really need new and more strategic decisions how to access and use those.
Yet, the abundance of data is not your simple key in unlocking more success.
What you do need is the clear strategic combination of both data and creativity, and seeing them as key investment opportunities within the organisation.
Hiring therefore people, your “whole-brain-talent”, is key: these people effectively understand how to work across the organisation, and how to leverage and source particular skillsets that they need to leverage an idea.
We need people who can influence across the whole of organisation.
This is a vital insight because many people who have innovative ideas within organisations do not necessarily have the technical expertise to execute those.
For example, you might have ideas or see the clear benefit of leveraging big data, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence in analysing the marketplace or a particular scientific idea but you don’t have the actual skills to do so.
Innovative individuals therefore need to be surrounded by people who have the skills and are ready to execute; someone who gets the idea and has the technical expertise to put it into practice, and also resource support in doing so.
Innovation often dies within organisations when these needs for specific skills are not matched and people with ideas are left filing these into the “sometime in the future” folder.
Networking across the organisation
Often networking across the organisation is enough for you to find the people that you need to have on your team and who already have what you need.
Then it becomes more of a question to negotiate how collaboration can be fostered.
Yet in big organisations, it is often only through speaking to key people who know other key people that one truly gets and finds these connections in-house.
This is very true especially at universities where we easily become siloed and protect our own ideas in the fear that someone else might steal them and execute them instead.
Careers are made or broken on ideas and papers published, products developed, and it is still a race to claim IP over a particular idea or product.
Collaboration needs to be therefore a joint opportunity to leverage something bigger, something braver, and something greater than what one discipline or one skill set can offer.
The challenge for networking is that the ownership of the idea gets spread out, and for some this is a sole reason why not to collaborate.
Yet, in this era of global complexity and the increasing amount of data, combining skills and knowledge is becoming a must for those who seek to influence and innovate at greater and broader scales.
But, once you have a genuinely good idea, how do you get buy-in from those that you’d need to help you to leverage and make the idea a reality?
Influencing others in a way that matters
Luckily I have been reading the book The Influence Book: Practical steps to becoming a strong influencer by Nicole Soames that focuses on such factors and skills as emotional intelligence and how you should and can leverage it when trying to influence others.
The focus of the book is more on marketing and selling a product (to get a person to say yes in the buying process) but many of the insights work across other fields as well.
Her definition of influencing is “the ability to leverage your emotional intelligence to communicate effectively so that you make it easy for the other person to say yes” (p. 4).
This includes thinking through factors like communication styles and how to match your style with the person you are trying to influence, identifying your own motivation in the first place why you seek to influence, and understanding the needs of the person or market segment that you are pitching to.
Most influencers “all share an ability to inspire and motivate others to take action and embrace change” (p. 2) and Nicole suggests that we really need to view influencing as “a core life skill” rather than a strategy among others.
I absolutely loved how she approached the skill of listening in the mix: “hearing is involuntary, whereas listening is a skill” (p. 66).
If you are not focused on listening what is being said about their needs, priorities and values, and only focus on pitching yours, there is a high chance that you’ll both miss an opportunity to create something better.
Listening is also essential in building trust, and since people buy ideas from people, the more you focus on building genuine relationships, the more likely it is that you have a chance to become an influencer.
Trust can be built by:
“delivering your promises (reliability), having the relevant experience and expertise (credibility), and being able to put yourself in the other party’s shoes (empathy), while minimising your personal agenda (self-interest)” (p. 70).
It is the combination of these essential factors that together build your brand but also give you the edge in negotiating why you are the go-to person of choice when it comes to buying or taking up an idea.
The case of adaptation influencers
Many of these lessons are crucial for us who work in climate adaptation, simply because the vastness, richness and complexity of climate adaptation demands approaches that are holistic (consider multiple perspectives).
Adaptation as an idea used to be almost taboo because it was believed that mitigation (reducing greenhouse gases) was under control and that we could mitigate our way out of the climate change problem.
But the very latest science on climate change, and the very latest extreme events e.g. like the heatwaves we have just seen in Europe, remind us that adaptation is frankly here to stay.
The job ahead of us is, or at least should not be, about convincing decision- and policy-makers and their communities that adaptation is a real thing but rather assist them in thinking how to leverage adaptation most effectively and equitably.
Some keep arguing that adaptation is a fuzzy issue and that it is hard to deal with because it is often anchored in the future (this will happen in 40 years time), and that selling policy issues to the public is about the here and now: the jobs today, the roads today, the waste water management and public transport issues of today.
But somehow we are ok with exploring the space to find new planets, investing in driverless cars of the future, and investing in wacky technologies, which are not really about the here and now.
Yet, the science of climate change has not been as solid than what it is now, and is clearly showing that our planet is indeed undergoing massive unprecedented changes, and that some of these are already on our doorstep.
So for me the message is more clear than before: we need adaptation influencers who can build trust and relationships in a manner that enables climate adaptation to become an everyday part of decision- and policy-making, and also implementation.
We need adaptation messages that normalise adaptation into the everyday vocabulary and that makes adaptation a positive opportunity to have some control in an uncertain rapidly changing world.
In the end, adaptation to climate change is about securing resilient communities, preparing us for impacts that we know are coming, and also enhancing our everyday lives in ways that can help us to flourish.
This will ultimately depend on how we harness the combination of data & creativity, and build truly genuine trusting relationships with those we should aim to influence.